Sex Change

It’s hard to imagine the nubile Victoria Abril as a young man, but she’s fairly believable playing an androgynous teenager who longs to be a woman; as both Jose Maria, a shy, repressed country boy, and Maria Jose, a seductive nightclub entertainer in Barcelona, she’s poignant, dignified, and subtly bisexual. Basing his 1976 feature on a true story, Spanish director Vicente Aranda steers clear of tawdry melodrama and pat psychology; he matter-of-factly charts Jose’s gradual transformation as a stubborn journey toward self-fulfillment encouraged by those who understand him. Shot by Nestor Almendros with stunning visual nuance, the film is full of telling sequences, perhaps none more metaphoric than one in which Maria is made over into a glamour queen (a direct reference to A Star Is Born). Aranda isn’t above a touch of perversity: shortly before his sex-change operation, Maria performs a striptease ditty about his “little thing,” an urgent desire disguised as naughty exhibitionism. With Bibi Andersen, a RuPaul-esque transsexual, and Lou Castel as a nightclub impresario. Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Sunday, August 23, 12:30, 773-281-4114.

–Ted Shen